Sunday, March 31, 2013

McKines Part Deux

Wendell McKines is at it again.

McKines is going for his second straight Player of the Month Award in the Pro B league in France. McKines averaged 19 and 9 in March for Rouen. Here is the link to vote. McKines is third in a three-man race as I write this.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Interviewing a question of semantics

First regarding Marvin Menzies' trip to Lubbock last week. People have reached out to me on Twitter asking did Menzies lie etc. Not sure I would call it a lie. But coaches talking to other schools while they are still employed is a slippery situation but it's fairly common in college athletics — look no further than Tim Floyd's meeting with USC when the Miners were still playing games. Meeting, conversations, consulting, call it whatever you want, but obviously Texas Tech gave Menzies a look but it didn't get further than that according to Menzies on Tuesday.

In looking at Menzies contract closer, there is a section that says the coach must inform the Athletics Director of other opportunities or interest before any discussions or interviews,  however initial contacts are not included in that. McKinley Boston said on Tuesday that Texas Tech hadn't requested to talk to Menzies, but the reality is that aside from a professional courtesy, they weren't required to. On Friday, Boston told me however, that he was indeed aware that Menzies was in Lubbock having a conversation with Tech officials. With three WAC championships in four years, Boston said he wasn't surprised that Menzies is listening to what other schools have to say.

"I am surprised that there has only been one discussion," Boston said. "I thought there would have been more if you look at the full body of work, he has done a credible job building the program."

To my understanding, there isn't a technical definition of an 'official interview' so it basically comes down to how those parties involved decide to describe it publicly. It probably is not the last time Menzies' name turns up officially or otherwise. I think he would certainly be interested in the UCLA or USC job if they came calling, but according to Menzies, at least, he won't be leaving for Texas Tech. Boston said that to date no other schools have contacted him regarding Menzies.

Also looking at Menzies contract, he earned $40,000 in performance incentives this year. There will likely be another $20,000 for academic incentives that will kick in this fall.

WAC Tournament — $10,000 for winning the WAC Tournament
Win total — $10,000 for winning 17 or more games
NCAA Tournament — $20,000 for reaching the NCAA Tournament
Academic bonuses — $10,000 for a multi year APR score above 900 and $10,000 for maintaining the number of at risk athletes to no more than four. At risk athletes are defined as scholarship players who are on academic probation, suspension, or a semester GPA below 2.0.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Highs and lows of a rebuilding year

This year’s Aggies lived up to lofty expectations that in reality shouldn’t have been as high as they were.
Aggies fans knew that last year’s team would reach the postseason. This year, not so much.
Considering New Mexico State was replacing three of the most productive four-year players in program history, winning a conference championship and reaching a second straight NCAA Tournament is a significant achievement.
The Aggies were picked to win the Western Athletic Conference. They didn’t, instead winning the third Western Athletic Conference Tournament championship under head coach Marvin Menzies.
How the Aggies got to their second straight conference championship was anything but smooth.
Here are a few highlights and lowlights from NMSU’s 2013 basketball season:

Slow starters
NMSU didn’t exactly get off to a start worthy of a NCAA Tournament team.
NMSU entered conference play 5-8 against Division I opponents, including going 0-3 to start against regional rivals New Mexico and UTEP.
It’s a trend that has developed at NMSU under Menzies. The Lobos turned out to have a nice little year for themselves, but NMSU could have won the game in Las Cruces. The Aggies should have won the first meeting against UTEP in El Paso, losing a two-possession lead in the final minute.
The slow start continued into WAC play with the Aggies losing road games at Texas-Arlington and Louisiana Tech to open conference play. It was starting to near panic mode, but the Aggies proved to be a WAC contender after all.

The streak
If there was a turning point to the season, it may well have been NMSU’s early January road sweep at Seattle and Idaho. Bandja Sy hit a 3-pointer with seven seconds left to send the Aggies into overtime and ultimately a win. Two nights later, Daniel Mullings knocked down two free throws in the final seconds to escape Idaho with a win.
Seattle and Idaho were two of a season-long 12-game win streak that propelled the Aggies to the conversation for a league title. It was the school’s longest streak since the 2006-07 season.

Dealing with injury and distractions
Two Aggies basketball players have pending felony charges. Walk-on guard Emory Coleman was arrested in January for homicide by vehicle a year after a fatal accident that killed an Alamogordo man. Coleman’s situation was overshadowed by a felony battery charge against three-year starter Tyrone Watson. Watson has pleaded not guilty after his involvement in an incident at a house party in February where a fellow student was beaten. Watson missed seven games due to suspension and returned on March 2 against Denver.
Watson played two games after his suspension was lifted, but went down in the second game with a high ankle sprain against Louisiana Tech that ultimately ended his career.
Watson did play seven minutes against Saint Louis, but he wasn’t the only Aggies player to go down to injury. Junior center Tshilidzi Nephawe played nine games before undergoing season ending injury to repair torn ligaments in his hand. Point guard K.C. Ross-Miller also missed games this year due to injury.

Solid seniors
Watson and Sy enjoyed productive careers at NMSU. Both were on three NCAA Tournament teams. Watson was an all-around player for the Aggies and Sy was a highlight dunk waiting to happen. Sy ended his career perfectly with a game-winner against UTA at home on Feb. 23 and was the only Aggies player to register double figures on Thursday.

Eyes to the future
The injuries and suspension opened the door for role players to develop into future starters. Sim Bhullar put the Aggies on his 7-foot-5 frame and carried NMSU to a conference title in Las Vegas, earning Tournament MVP honors in his first season on the basketball court in nearly two years. With another off season to continue to develop his fitness and skill level, Bhullar should be a preseason WAC Player of the Year candidate, as will Mullings as a junior. Mullings improved at the foul line and the field while continuing to defend and rebound at an elite level. Juniors Renaldo Dixon and Remi Barry will replace Watson at the four next year to form a strong nucleus.
The Aggies need to find consistency at the point guard position, but with the state of the WAC next year, the Aggies should be runaway favorites next year where the expectations should have high expectations to match their experience and talent level.

Jason Groves can be reached at (575) 541-5459. Follow him on Twitter @jpgroves.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

NMSU offense exposed, shut down

It's probably not a coincidence that New Mexico State played its worst offensive game of the season against the best defensive team the Aggies have faced this year.

The Aggies recorded season lows in points in a half (16), points for a game (44) and field goal percentage (27.9 percent) in a 64-44 loss to Saint Louis on Thursday.

We all know that the Aggies aren't a prolific offensive team in the half court. But the only criticism I had was a lack of involvement of Sim Bhullar. NMSU plays much better when Bhullar touches the ball. He was obviously a focus of the Saint Louis defense, but four shots?

"I thought we were very good against him," SLU coach Jim Crews said. "When you start watching film, our assistants had seen film, and the first thing they said is don't just pay attention to him. They have other guys, not only long, but they were very good and very quick. So it was going to be a team situation."

St. Louis made it hard on NMSU's offensive players to even look inside. NMSU's 16 turnovers and the 20 points off them was the key to the game, especially since NMSU was doing a fine job defensively in the first half to keep them in the game.

Aside from a brief stretch from Bandja Sy, NMSU's offense lost them the game.

But this was the first time in the past three tournament appearances, the Aggies seemed like they believed they belonged on the court. That's what tournament experience does for you. Moving forward, they need to add to their system offensively. Last year, Indiana was calling their plays during a possession and this year Saint Louis was more than ready.

San Jose full of Canadians

The Aggies aren't the only team team with a Canadian presence here in San Jose.

St. Louis forward Grandy Glaze is from Toronto and UNLV has Anthony Bennett and Khem Birch on the roster.

Bennett and Bhullar played together for Canada and in AAU ball. Birch was on the NMSU campus after leaving Pitt and went on to be named Mountain West defensive player of the year once he became eligible.

Bennett attended the WAC championship game in Las Vegas last weekend.

"I don't know if I will get a chance to watch him play," Bennett said. "He was one of my AAU teammates. We are really good friends and we come from the same area. Everytime I see him, it's all love. It's basically another family member."

St. Louis: Three keys

Turnovers: big key for this game. St. Louis doesn't turn the ball over that much (11.4 per game), NMSU does (14.2 per game) and St. Louis forces 15 turnovers per game. The SLU guards are aggressive and will be all over KC Ross Miller and Terrel de Rouen. Guards Jordair Jett, Mike McCall and forwards Dwayne Evans and Cody Ellis all average at least one steal per game. Aggies have to be aggressive but protect the ball

Big game for Bandja Sy and Renaldo Dixon: NMSU is much better offensively when Bandja Sy is productive. He had good second halves in the WAC Tournament last week. I don't think Sy can wait until the second half on Thursday. NMSU's offense isn't efficient as a whole and when they aren't getting transition points, they go through long scoring lulls. NMSU went 10 minutes without a field goal in the WAC title game. Can't happen Thursday. I think it's going to be a tight game but the only way NMSU can get blown out is if they go on another dry spell. Dixon will have his hands full with St. Louis power forward Dwayne Evans, who was described to me as a freshman or sophomore year Wendell McKines. Good rebounder, drives and gets to the foul line. Dixon and Sim Bhullar's length in traffic can bother him.

Rebounding:  St. Louis keeps teams to one shot for the most part so NMSU has to do the same. St. Louis grabs around nine offensive rebounds per game but NMSU is the 20th ranked team in terms of rebounding percentage at 55 percent.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Menzies keeping Bhullar away from NCAA buzz

There is a lot of buzz on Twitter and online regarding NMSU freshman center Sim Bhullar.

Here is an AP story about Saint Louis center Rob Loe, who is going to be a handful in his own right, plans to defend Bhullar. Loe seems like an Alex Kirk type of center. Rugged, but can also step out and shoot.

I was able to speak with Bhullar prior to the WAC Tournament, but he wasn't available again until winning the Tournament MVP award after averaging 12 and 10 in the WAC tournament and a 16 point, 15 rebound five block performance in the title game.

Bhullar wasn't available on Monday before the team left and I'm not sure if he will be at the Aggies' press conference around noon on Wednesday.

"Freshmen in general, I don't like to over expose them to this," Aggies coach Marvin Menies said. "Dealing with the media in this day and age is a different media.  I think less is more for younger kids. I don't need him to have a great interview and a great press conference. I need to have him play well in the game. My focus is winning the game, not winning the press conference."

Menzies would rather keep Bhullar focused on the task at hand and let his more experienced players get the attention. It will be interesting to see how much the Aggies veterans can calm down Bhullar and other players who are making their first appearance in the tournament.

"It's a huge huge event. It's the Big Dance. It can be overwhelming for a young kid," Menzies said. "Even for an older kid who has never been there. The experience of just going through that process is good. I'm hoping we will benefit from that."

I'm sure if the Aggies spring the upset, Bhullar will be on the podium. If not, "You guys will have more access next year, put it that way."

Monday, March 18, 2013

Lessons learned from last year's NCAA

I remember talking to NMSU players following last year's first-round loss to Indiana. It seemed like the Aggies were depending on getting to the foul line against the Hoosiers. Afterall, the Aggies were among the nation's leaders in free throw attempts. Only problem was that NMSU wasn't playing with WAC refs anymore. NCAA games are called differently for whatever reason. Perhaps some are coming from a more physical league, more experience in the Tournament. But NMSU attempted just 10 free throws against Indiana.

Indiana was also ready for Wendell McKines, as the dominant offensive force on the Aggies. A year later and I believe this team is more balanced offensively while still doing the things that got NMSU into the tournament last year.

"You have to play harder, play stronger, make stronger moves because they are not going to call everything and we know that," Aggies senior Bandja Sy said. "They let us play."

Not that the Aggies shy away from a physical game, but they won't get calls and now they know this going in. Not to mention, St. Louis has been described as a very physical basketball team.

Sy and Daniel Mullings both said the Aggies can't afford to get off to a slow start again.

"They jumped out on us early before we kind of adjusted," Mullings said.

This year's Aggies are less reliant on the free throw line this season, and more balanced offensively.

"A lot of that has to do with a  lot of the starters that went down at the beginning of the season because we have a lot of depth at a lot of positions," Mullings said.

The Aggies defend and rebound well enough to keep them in any game. They aren't as reliant on getting to the foul line as they were a year ago and more players are capable of contributing. NMSU seems to have improved in areas of weakness from last year's tournament team.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Keys to a championship: Arlington prediction

Transition: The Aggies turned the ball over 20 times last week in Las Cruces. Turnovers, and bad shots by NMSU was a big reason UTA got back into the game last week. If NMSU runs better offense and takes care of the ball tonight UTA won't get the kind of looks that hurt NMSU last week.

3-point defense: Arlington is shooting 43 percent from 3-point range this week. Karol Gruszecki is shooting 47 percent this week and is one of four players capable of knocking it down. One thing that helps the Aggies is that for the first time this week, center Sim Bhullar isn't facing a center with much of a jump shot in Jordan Reeves. UTA got a lot of transition 3s against the Aggies in Las Cruces last week. Look for Bandja Sy to guard Gruszecki and Renaldo Dixon to guard Kevin Butler.

Point guard play: This is probably the first time this week that the Aggies may need Watson's ability to handle the ball to help out the point guards against Arlington's press. KC Ross-Miller had a decent game on Friday with 12 points 5 assists and 3 steals, but Arlington's point guard Shaq White Miller will be a handful for Ross Miller and Terrel de Rouen tonight. White Miller is good at getting into the paint and creating. UTA uses a lot of ball screens for him so NMSU bigs will hedge out and not necessarily switch.

UTA feels like they should have swept the Aggies this season. Their press and ability to shoot the 3 will keep this close but NMSU will pull out a 68-62 victory.

Arlington is a confident group entering final

LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Success isn't new for Texas-Arlington.
"Reaching the NCAA Tournament is probably the most amazing thing and that is what I am trying to convey to these guys," UTA coach Scott Cross said following his team's 69-53 victory over Texas-San Antonio in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals on Friday. "Last year we were a conference champion. These guys could have to of the best years in UTA history."
Arlington (19-12) plays No. 3 New Mexico State at 9 p.m., in the WAC Tournament championship game on ESPNU on Saturday.
Cross discussed the Aggies' size as being difficult to handle, but Arlington has been difficult for the Aggies to handle. Arlington beat NMSU by 21 points in December and the Aggies needed a Bandja 3-pointer on senior night to beat UTA last weekend in Las Cruces.
"I was mad that he hit the game-winner at the end," Arlington forward Kevin Butler said. "I think we should have won that game. We came out and actually dominated the second half. If we play like we did the second half last game the whole game, no question we win."
Butler has been among the best players in Las Vegas and wing Karol Gruszecki is 9-for-19 (47) percent from 3-point range this week.
Arlington is shooting 43 percent (19-for-44) from 3-point range this week in Las Vegas. Arlington was 10-for-23 against Utah State in the quarterfinals and UTA hit 9-of-21 against UTSA.
Arlington outscored NMSU 43-31 in the second half last week in Las Cruces and UTA's full court pressure forced 20 NMSU turnovers. Friday's lopsided win allowed Cross the luxury of resting key players.
"I don't think it was about the end of the game, it was the first half," Gruszecki said. "We  didn't play with energy. Second half we stepped it up and had a chance to win. It was a good lesson for us before the tournament that if we play defense like we did tonight for 40 minutes, we can win."

Jason Groves can be reached at (575) 541-5459. Follow him on Twitter @jpgroves.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Postseason: Texas State keys and prediction

Joel Wright — Wright was 3-18 the last time these teams played. Renaldo Dixon/Bandja Sy could each guard Wright, but look for Remi Barry to get some minutes tonight against Wright. Wright came off a 32 point game where he got to the foul line 16 times against Denver. He's a versatile four but he didn't attempt a 3 against Denver, getting into the paint.

Run — This is Texas State's third game in as many days. NMSU won't press like they did against Idaho because Texas State guards are better, but pushing the tempo and pounding the ball inside with Bhullar could help wear down the Bobcats and their best big man Matt Staff, who had 20 and 10 last game against the Aggies.

Fast start — The key to Texas State's three game win streak is a fast start. They led 10-0 against Denver on Thursday. NMSU needs to hold them to one shot and grind it out. The Aggies outrebounded Texas State by nine in San Marcos.

Texas State is a solid team, but I think the Aggies win 74-63 for two reason — NMSU matches up very well with Texas State and NMSU is too close to the final to come out and let the Bobcats hang around.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Crazy day in the WAC

We have a 9 seed and a 7 seed in the semifinals on Friday.

UTSA's victory over top-seeded Louisiana Tech was just the second time the No. 9 seed beat the No. 1 seed in the WAC Tournament and the first since Air Force beat Colorado State in 1990. It was only the third time the top two seeds went down in the quarterfinals.

It will be interesting to see how Texas State and UTSA play in their third game in three days while No. 3 NMSU and No. 4 Arlington are playing their second game of the week.

It's too bad that UTSA, La. Tech, teams that are up and coming, are leaving the WAC. Even Texas State and Arlington have players and good coaches.

Daniel Mullings postgame

Spoke with Daniel Mullings on Thursday after the Aggies beat Idaho 65-49. Two things that stood out to me. You have to give Marvin Menzies credit where it's due and he out coached Verlin Thursday. Idaho never adjusted to the press. Also, Mullings showed that the experience he gathered last year was more than enough to carry over into another postseason.

Aggies take on upstart Texas State in WAC semis

LAS VEGAS, Nev. - It didn't take long for an upset in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament.
A night after winning a play-in game, seventh-seeded Texas State beat No. 2 Denver 72-68 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., on Thursday.
Texas State advanced to play No. 3 New Mexico State in Friday's 7 p.m., semifinal. Texas State beat Seattle 68-56 on Wednesday to advance to take on the rested Pioneers.
"We are playing the better team because they are the team that won," said Aggies coach Marvin Menzies, whose Aggies beat No. 6 Idaho 65-49 in the first game of the day. "Denver didn't shoot the 3 but Texas State is the reason they struggled so we have to be ready for their intensity."
Denver was 10-for-28 from 3-point range against Texas State, forced to play from behind for the whole game.
"It's a tough pill after the way we have been playing for the past three months," Denver coach Joe Scott said. "They (Texas State) played the best they have all year. That happens this time of year."
Texas State wing Joel Wright scored 32 points on 9-for-10 shooting and was 14-of-16 from the foul line.
"I had so many coaches and people giving me condolences the last couple of days because (Denver) is such a good team," said Texas State coach Doug Davalos, whose team improved to 11-21 on the season. "The thing about the team I am coaching is we are a good team too."
New Mexico State beat Texas State 78-67 in Las Cruces and 86-72 in San Marcos, Texas. Wright scored 14 points on 3-of-18 shooting in San Marcos and he scored 17 in Las Cruces.
"We have been a great defensive team in conference the last three games," Davalos said. "Nothing is going to change (Friday). We know how talented (the Aggies) are."
The Aggies have been remarkably focused throughout the course of the season. It's unlikely the Aggies will look past Texas State. After all, the Aggies beat last year's upstart team, Louisiana Tech, in the final after the Bulldogs advanced past Utah State and Nevada.
"There have been a lot of close games," Menzies said. "You have to be able to bring your 'A' game on any given night. That's what we did today and hopefully we do it tomorrow."

Postseason keys and prediction: Idaho

Limit Hill and Madison: Idaho center Kyle Barone has proven to be difficult for the Aggies this year, scoring 18 and 26 points against NMSU this year. The Aggies can't let Stephen Madison and Connor Hill get going. Hill kept Idaho close in Las Cruces. Barone, Hill and and Madison have scored 43.7 of Idaho's 69 points per game this season.

Stop penetration: Barone gets a lot of points off penetration as guards get into the paint and find him for dunks. Mullings, Sy and the point guard have to try to keep Idaho's guards in front of them.

Keep Bhullar involved offensively: Sim Bhullar was 8-8 in the last game against Idaho. Idaho center Kyle Barone has only fouled out once this season, but making him work on both ends could rob his legs on those jump shots later in the game. It will be interesting to see if perhaps Idaho throws a different defense at the Aggies since nothing they have done this year has seemed to work.

NMSU hasn't failed to make the WAC semis. I don't think that ends today, although it looks like Watson will not play. Aggies win 69-66

Idaho seeking breakthrough win at expense of Aggies

Idaho has improved as a basketball program under fifth-year coach Don Verlin.
But Verlin is missing an essential piece of the puzzle before the Vandals can move on as a program. Verlin has yet to win a Western Athletic Conference Tournament game as the No. 6 Vandals take on No. 3 New Mexico State in a 1 p.m., quarterfinal today at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev.
“It’s important for the program,” Verlin said. “We have been the three seed twice and haven’t got it done. What is important is to go out and play our best basketball. New Mexico State is as good as anyone in the conference right now. We know it’s going to be a tough game.”
Idaho is 1-7 all-time in the WAC Tournament and 0-1 against NMSU. The Vandals haven’t won a tournament game since the 2006-07 season under George Pfeifer. Pfeifer lost the next year to NMSU in the only WAC Tournament meeting between the schools.
The Vandals have been a No. 3 seed twice under Verlin and a No. 4 seed once with two appearances in the CIT, but success in the conference tournament has eluded the Vandals.
“This may be the toughest first-round draw we have had in my five years,” Verlin said. “You see so many upsets throughout the country this time of year. It’s a new lease on life.”
Today’s game could be the last game for WAC Player of the Year Kyle Barone, who is also seeking his first WAC Tournament win.
“I really want to be around on the weekend,” Barone said. “Last year we were a No. 3 seed and we lost in the first round.”
Barone has been among the top players in the WAC for the past three years, but the Vandals have ran their offense through him this year and Barone averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds per game.
“Last year we had some seniors that could run the offense,” Barone said. “This year they look at me to make plays. Our guards are good at getting to the rim and dishing it off or I clean up offensive rebounds. I expected the offense to run more through me and late in the year, it has been.”
Barone is a tough match up for the Aggies. He had 18 points and 10 rebounds in a 71-70 Aggies victory in Moscow, Idaho. Barone scored 26 points in a 76-74 NMSU win in Las Cruces.
“It was a one-possession game and they won it at the free throw line,” Barone said. “We have lost two games by three points so we have a good idea of what the game is going to be like.”
Aggies guard Daniel Mullings hit critical free throws in the last minute in both NMSU wins over Idaho this year.
“They are going to remember that,” Mullings said. “They know we beat them twice already and they are going to go with the mentality that it’s time for revenge. We know it’s one-and-done and we don’t want to go home.”
Barone will be a handful for the Aggies today, but NMSU can’t let wings Stephen Madison and Connor Hill get going. Barone, Madison and Hill account for 43.7 of Idaho’s 69 points per game. Hill was 3-for-4 from 3-point range for 21 points in the Vandals’ loss in Las Cruces.
“Connor Hill brings a lot of 3s so we have to run him off the line and make sure he does not get good looks at the basket,” Mullings said. “I played pretty good defense on him but he made a lot of great shots. I have to look at what I can do even better to try to shut him down.”
Conventional wisdom says that it’s difficult to beat a team three times in the same season. Verlin is hoping that trend holds.
Jason Groves can be reached at (575) 541-5459. Follow him on Twitter @jpgroves.

Monday, March 11, 2013

NMSU beats Utah State in WAC Final (Am I crazy?)

 COMMENTARY: Defense, experience will lift Aggies to back-to-back WAC titles

There hasn’t been a back-to-back Western Athletic Conference Tournament champion since Hawaii did it in 2000-02.
It’s a different league now and it will be vastly different next year, but New Mexico State’s experience and commitment to defense will carry them through the conference tournament this week at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
The Aggies will open the tournament against an Idaho team on Thursday that is 1-7 in the WAC Tournament with head coach Don Verlin still looking for a victory. NMSU beat the Vandals twice in the regular season by a combined three points thanks to some late Daniel Mullings free throws in each  game.
Conventional wisdom says that it’s hard to beat a team three times. History says it’s easy to beat Idaho in the WAC Tournament.
Thursday won’t be a cakewalk. Idaho has the WAC’s best player in center Kyle Barone and capable shooters, but the Aggies will advance to face No. 2 Denver in Friday’s 7 p.m., semifinal.
The Aggies are the only team to beat both top-seeded Louisiana Tech and the Pioneers this season. NMSU handled the Pioneers quite easily in Las Cruces and Denver returned the favor in Colorado two weeks ago. Denver enters the postseason on a 10-game win streak with the last three coming at home. Denver is first in WAC play in 3s made and 3-point percentage (39.8) and fourth in 3s attempted. If the Pioneers are off, which they were in Las Cruces, the Aggies use their size and physicality to eliminate the Pioneers. NMSU played well enough to win at Denver, but 18 turnovers cost the Aggies any chance and Denver eventually picked the Aggies apart. We have seen the Aggies shut down each of the top two seeds offensively, and in a tournament setting, NMSU does it again to advance to the final, where head coach Marvin Menzies is 2-1 in WAC title games.
Louisiana Tech was the No. 5 seed last year and reached the final. I’m going with this year’s No. 5 seed to also reach the final.
Utah State was swept by both Louisiana Tech and No. 4 Texas-Arlington this year but the Utah State Aggies were not healthy in both games against Arlington. I suppose my Utah State pick is predicated more in a lack of confidence in Louisiana Tech than belief that Utah State is the second best team in the conference. First Utah State needs to get past a good Arlington team in what is perhaps the most intriguing WAC quarterfinal on Thursday. If Utah State does advance, can the new kid on the block Bulldogs take down a WAC heavyweight? I’m not so sure considering the Bulldogs coming back down to earth over the weekend with convincing losses at NMSU and Denver. The Bulldogs are a good team, but a team that relies on jump shots falling — not a tried and true recipe for postseason success. 
Perhaps it’s the fact that I picked NMSU and Utah State atop the league standings in the preseason or the idea of the two rivals meeting one last time for an automatic bid on the line. I know it’s the final I want to see.
I think NMSU wins rather easily given Utah State’s lack of depth after back-to-back games against pressing teams.
NMSU’s road through the WAC won’t be easy. I believe the Aggies could just as easily be eliminated on Thursday night. If they face Denver, it’s the true WAC championship game to me. NMSU has played defense each night this year with few exceptions. 
Defense, in this case, wins championships.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Senior night speeches

The angle isn't great and it's far away, but Tyrone Watson and Bandja Sy were recognized on Senior Night Saturday. Watson talks about his career, his ankle injury and his legal situation.

All WAC selections

Not much to gripe about with the All WAC selections on Sunday. I believe this is the first time I can really say that. The most deserving player got Player of the Year, despite not playing on the team with the best record. Perhaps Wendell McKines' slight last year was corrected a year later.

Idaho's Kyle Barone was named the Player of the Year after leading the league with 17.7 ppg and 10.9 rpg. Shooting 58 percent, second in the WAC.

I had Mullings and Sy flip flopped with Utah State's Butterfield on the first team, but either way after Barone, Udofia and Appleby, the rest of the league is pretty even to me.

Sim Bhullar had a nice showing. He was third team, all newcomer and the school's first WAC Freshman of the Year. I had him on the second team and thought he could have been all defense as well as he led the league with 3 blocked shots per game.

2012-13 WAC Men's Basketball Postseason Award Winners

First Team
Chris Udofia, Jr., F, Denver
Kyle Barone, Sr., C, Idaho
Raheem Appleby, So., G, Louisiana Tech
Kenneth Smith, So., G, Louisiana Tech
Bandja Sy, Sr., F, New Mexico State

Second Team
Chase Hallam, Sr., G, Denver
Daniel Mullings, So., G, New Mexico State
Joel Wright, Jr., F, Texas State
Spencer Butterfield, Jr., G/F, Utah State
Jarred Shaw, Jr., F/C, Utah State

Third Team
Brett Olson, So., G, Denver
Royce O'Neale, So., F, Denver
Sim Bhullar, Fr., C, New Mexico State
Kevin Butler, Sr., F, UT Arlington
Michael Hale III, Sr., G, UTSA 

Player of the Year: Kyle Barone, Sr., C, Idaho
Freshman of the Year: Sim Bhullar, Fr., C, New Mexico State
Don Haskins Coach of the Year: Michael White, Louisiana Tech

All-Defensive Team
Chase Hallam, Sr., G, Denver
Chris Udofia, Jr., F, Denver
Michale Kyser, So., F, Louisiana Tech
Kenneth Smith, So., G, Louisiana Tech
Daniel Mullings, So., G, New Mexico State

All-Newcomer Team
Alex Hamilton, Fr., G, Louisiana Tech
Sim Bhullar, Fr., C, New Mexico State
Joel Wright, Jr., F, Texas State
Spencer Butterfield, Jr., G/F, Utah State
Jarred Shaw, Jr., F/C, Utah State

Friday, March 8, 2013

Watson and Sy, two exceptional role players at NMSU

Bandja Sy and Tyrone Watson have been very good role players on some very good Aggies teams. The result has been two WAC championships and the Aggies are certainly in contention for a third, which would be quite an accomplishment to cap a career.

I’ve been a big Watson fan throughout his career because of  his versatility. Watson has started all but one game the past three seasons before he was suspended this year.  He never had to do as much as has been asked this season. In 2010, he only played 10 minutes a game as a freshman in a backup role to Wendell McKines or Troy Gillenwater on that loaded offensive team. This year is the first time he’s cracked double figures in scoring with 10.7 points per game. Watson shoots over 50 percent for his career and averages 5 rpg. Some standout moments from his four years in Cruces included a 26 point explosion this year at Seattle where he also had six rebounds, five assists and seven steals. Last year, Watson beat Bakersfield with two free throws with .9 seconds left for a road win. Watson posted his career high in a home loss to UNM in 2010 with 14 rebounds. Watson’s second of his 95 starts, he scored the first seven points in an 87-80 road win at UTEP as a freshman in 2010 on a tournament team that was 2-5 entering that game prior to the return of Gillenwater and McKines.

Sy’s standout moments to me are any of his three dunks throughout his career that ended up on Sportscenter or the countless that didn’t. Sy has always been an amazing athlete but my early impressions of him were of a raw player who didn’t know the language and didn’t really know basketball. Sy landed at NMSU because Menzies was recruiting Chili Nephawe at Stoneridge Prep in California and Sy was a teammate.
“He came to see Chili and he saw me as well,” Sy said. “I could understand English but my teammates helped me a lot. I wasn’t allowed to speak French  but I did anyway.”
There was a play in Sy’s freshman season where there was an Aggies inbounds pass at one baseline and Sy was a safety option near midcourt. The ball was passed long and just as it was crossing halfcourt, Sy saved the ball from a backcourt violation — only in that situation you can go backcourt. How far he’s come. Sy really improved last year as a defensive stopper and a spark off the bench, as shown by his block of Phillip McDonald and 3-point play at the other end to ice last year’s win at UNM or  his 3-4 shooting night from 3-point range to beat Utah State in Logan last year. An interesting note on Sy, his older brother, Amara Sy, has had a nice career for himself in Europe, currently playing for ASVEL in France and wearing the No. 10 shirt. 
“He tells me to have fun and enjoy myself,” Sy said.

WAC scenarios

Below are the possible seeds for each of the men’s teams after Saturday’s games.  Ties were broken using the tie-breaking principles on the following page.

Possible Seeds


1      If Denver beats Louisiana Tech and has an RPI better than Louisiana Tech’s. The official NCAA RPI will be used following Saturday night’s game but may not be available until Sunday morning.

2      If Denver loses to Louisiana Tech


6      Locked in

Louisiana Tech

1      If Louisiana Tech beats Denver

2      If Louisiana Tech loses to Denver and has an RPI worse than Denver’s. The official NCAA RPI will be used following Saturday night’s game but may not be available until Sunday morning.


New Mexico St.

3      Locked in

San Jose St.

7      If San Jose State beats Texas State

8      If San Jose State loses to Texas State and Utah State beats UTSA


9      If San Jose State loses to Texas State, Utah State beats UTSA and Seattle beats Idaho OR
      If San Jose State loses to Texas State, UTSA beats Utah State and Idaho beats Seattle

10      If San Jose State loses to Texas State, UTSA beats Utah State and Seattle beats Idaho



8      If Seattle beats Idaho, Texas State beats San Jose State and Utah State beats UTSA


9      If Seattle beats Idaho, San Jose State beats Texas State and Utah State beats UTSA OR
      If Seattle beats Idaho, Texas State beats San Jose State and UTSA beats Utah State

10      If Seattle loses to Idaho OR
      If Seattle beats Idaho, San Jose State beats Texas State and UTSA beats Utah State

UT Arlington

4      Locked in


8      If UTSA beats Utah State


9      If UTSA loses to Utah State and Idaho beats Seattle

10      If UTSA loses to Utah State and Seattle beats Idaho

Texas St.

7      If Texas State beats San Jose State

8      If Texas State loses to San Jose State and Utah State beats UTSA


9      If Texas State loses to San Jose State and UTSA beats Utah State

Utah St.

5      Locked in

WAC Tie-breaking Procedures.

a.            General Procedures
The following procedures are to be used to determine seeding for a Conference tournament or to establish the automatic qualifier to an NCAA Championship subject to any sport regulation tie-breakers.

[1]            Ties for all places in the standings (between two teams or three or more teams) which can be broken based upon head-to-head competition are broken before the implementation of further tie-breaking procedures.

[2]            If more than two teams are tied, the three or more tie-breaking procedures shall be implemented.  If only two teams are tied, the two-team tie-breaking procedures shall be implemented.

[3]            In the case of ties for more than one place, the first tie broken is that of the highest place (i.e., first place, second place, etc.) and continue downward through the standings.

[4]            If the tie is for first place and cannot be broken by a head-to-head results, compare the tied teams’ winning percentage against the next highest finishing team and continue through the standings.  The team with the best winning percentage against the next highest-finishing team or group of tied teams advances.  If the tie is for any position other than first place, the comparison shall begin at the top of the standings.

[5]            Once a tied team has been placed in a position/seed, that team shall be included in all further comparisons of other tied teams from the position/seed in which it has been placed.

b.            Tie-Breaking Procedures

[1]            Two-Way Tie:

[i]            The winner of the head-to-head competition is the higher seed.

[ii]            If the tie is for first place, compare the tied teams’ records against the next highest finishing team and continue through the standings.  The team with the best record/winning percentage against the next highest finishing team or group of tied teams advances.  If the tie is for any position other than first place, the comparison shall begin at the top of the standings.

[iii]            If a tie still remains, the Conference office shall conduct a draw.  The drawn team shall receive the higher seed.

[iv]            Men and Women’s Basketball Only.  If a tie still remains, the institution with the highest RPI at the conclusion of the WAC's regular season shall receive the highest seed. The most recent available official NCAA RPI on the last day of the WAC’s regular season will be used. [5/11]

[2]            Three or More-Way Tie.  Once a tie has been reduced to two teams, the two-team tie-breaker is implemented.

[i]            Compare the records of the tied teams against each other.  The team(s) with the best record(s) versus the other tied teams receives the higher seed or advances to the next tie-breaker; the team with the next best record versus the other tied teams receives the next highest seed or advances to the next tie breaker, etc.

[ii]            If the tie is for first place, compare the tied teams’ records against the next highest finishing team and continue through the standings.  The team with the best record against the next highest-finishing team or group of tied teams advances.  If the tie is for any position other than first place the comparison shall begin at the top of the standings.

[iii]            If a tie still remains, the Conference office shall conduct a draw.  The first team drawn shall receive the higher seed, the second team drawn shall receive the next highest seed, etc.

[iv]            Men and Women’s Basketball Only.  If a tie still remains, the institution with the highest RPI at the conclusion of the WAC's regular season shall receive the highest seed. . The most recent available official NCAA RPI on the last day of the WAC’s regular season will be used. [5/11]

Thursday, March 7, 2013

La. Tech: Three keys and a prediction

Transition defense: NMSU outrebounded Louisiana Tech 42-33 in the first game with 12 offensive rebounds. The Aggies scored 36 points in the paint. NMSU averages 12.4 offensive rebounds per game. I asked Marvin Menzies if the Aggies can afford to be so aggressive on the offensive boards against a team that wants to push every possession.
"Right now, our defensive transition is one of our concerns because of how well they push the ball from multiple positions. The flip side is that if you do a good job hitting the glass, they slow down because they have to block out because they are giving away too many put backs and won't be so fast to leak out."
Another factor that hurts the Aggies is bad shots that lead to transition (Aggies need to play inside out they attempted 37 free throws in the first game) and turnovers (La Tech scored 21 points off 14 NMSU turnovers in the first game, NMSU coming off 18 turnovers at Denver.) Louisiana Tech leads the league with 17 turnovers forced per game and steals with 9.2 per game

3-point defense: Louisiana Tech made 11 3s in the first game against NMSU. Brandon Gibson was 5-5 from 3 and Kenyon McNeail was 4-6 but Cordarius Johnson Raheem Appleby  and Alex Hamilton are among the others that can shoot. La Tech shoots 24.7 3s per game and make 8 per game.

Rotation: Now that Tyrone Watson is back in the lineup, say what you will about the rotation at Denver, but I feel like Menzies knows that perhaps at least Renaldo Dixon was lost in the mix. My opinion is that won't happen again. In a game like tonight specifically, I don't think it can. Dixon can back up both Watson and Sim Bhullar, whose conditioning has improved but you don't want him playing over 30 minutes per game this time of year while Dixon has proven to be nearly as effective on the glass and protecting the rim. Not to mention the fact that La. Tech plays up to 11 guys nightly.
"This game will be more conducive to (Dixon and Remi Barry) playing and getting back into the groove. They will both have an opportunity in this game."
La Tech's bench outscored NMSU 38-19 in the first game.

I like NMSU tonight. This is typically the type of game that the Aggies get up for under Menzies and the Aggies are 13-1 at the Pan Am. I'm also not a big fan of La. Tech. I don't think they have played anyone, even in the WAC since the first weekend. I think its realistic they can lose both road games this weekend. But they have that weapon of the 3 ball and a very good point guard in Kenneth Smith. NMSU is capable of playing a faster pace to match La. Tech, but perhaps Bhullar can play a bigger role tonight. NMSU wins 76-71

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Aggies drop a game to Denver

It's looking like a No. 3 seed for the Aggies with a possibility of a No. 2 with two challenging games next weekend.

If you read my three keys, I thought NMSU really only accomplished one of them and that was get it inside and feed Bhullar. Otherwise Denver's 8  made 3s, NMSU's 18 turnovers and a weird rotation after Watson's return to the lineup were the three big take aways for me. Takes some luster off the La. Tech game, but both teams will still need it with Denver now two back of La Tech with NMSU a possible tiebreaker.

New Mexico State nearly erased a late 10-point deficit, but the Aggies fell 66-60 at Denver on Saturday in a game that should decide the No. 2 seed in the Western Athletic Conference.
The Aggies fell to 19-10 and 12-4 in the WAC, falling behind the 14-2 Pioneers. NMSU trailed by 10 with just over six minutes to play. The Aggies closed to within one, but couldn’t end Denver’s win streak, which was extended to eight.
“We learned that it’s not over until it’s over in the UTEP game,” Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said. “It was a one-point game but we didn’t get a good look at the basket. It’s where we have to have leadership on the floor.”
A day after his suspension was officially lifted, NMSU senior Tyrone Watson joined the Aggies in the starting lineup, finishing with 10 points and five assists in 38 minutes. 
Watson knocked down a pair of free throws to put NMSU up 34-27 as the Aggies extended a one-point halftime lead to a seven-point advantage.
But Denver’s methodical attack and NMSU’s carelessness with the basketball contributed to a 15-0 Denver run that put the Pioneers up 52-42 with 6:37 to play. NMSU committed five straight turnovers during the run. Denver scored 27 points off 18 NMSU turnovers.
“It’s disappointing,” Menzies said. “We knew that if we take care of the ball, there is a good chance to win the game — 18 turnovers is just not acceptable.”
DU went up 48-42 with  7:21 to play as Denver shot 50 percent in the second half, adding lay ups to a 8-for-14 (57.1 percent) effort from the 3-point line after shooting 3-for-18 from 3-point range in an Aggies win in Las Cruces.
“It’s one thing to not be scoring if they aren’t either but they shot the ball so well,” Menzies said. “We knew they would be better at home but didn’t think they would shoot 57 percent from 3.”
NMSU shot 47.8 percent from the field in the first half and finished 48.8 percent for the game but the Aggies went without a field goal for nearly nine minutes. Daniel Mullings struggled offensively, but he scored six straight points to make it a four-point game and Bandja Sy hit the Aggies’ first 3-point attempt of the game to make it 55-54 with 1:55 left. Forced to pressure full court, the Aggies gambled and left Chase Hallam alone for an open triple that extended the lead to 60-54 with 50 seconds left. 
Sy led the Aggies with 21 points and 11 rebounds and Sim Bhullar scored 17 points. Mullings finished with eight points and seven turnovers.
“I know the guys wanted to beat them twice and make a statement,” Menzies said. “Obviously it’s a sad lockerroom. We have two games left, luckily both are at home.”

Denver: Three keys and a prediction

Defend the 3: Denver probably won't go 3-18 from 3-point range against the Aggies again, but I think the Aggies' length on the wings and now with the additional depth with Watson will again make it difficult for Denver to get open shots. Denver center Chris Udofia, who had some success driving past Bhullar early, was 1-6 from 3-point range in the first game. Udofia seems to be a completely different player at home, shooting 47 percent from 3 while shooting 30 percent for the season from long range. Bhullar and Dixon will have to step out further on him, which could open the paint up for those back cuts.

Pound the paint again: NMSU out rebounded Denver 41-24 in the first game wtih 18 offensive rebounds. The Aggies had eight more shot attempts than Denver but shot just 36 percent. NMSU probably has to shoot closer to 40 percent tonight like they did in the first half of the first game. The Aggies also need to take care of the ball. Denver is second in the WAC with 15.4 turnovers forced per game.

Remain focused: NMSU has already had so many distractions this year that Tyrone Watson's return likely won't affect them. It will be interesting to see how the Aggies move roles around though.

The Aggies were very good defensively in the first game, very disciplined and if they take that same focus on the road, which they have for the most part, I think NMSU wins 64-60 on the road.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Watson's re-instatement shouldn't come as a surprise

As things stand today, the New Mexico State basketball team will put a player on the court who’s facing a felony charge — something that according to the school, would ultimately result in his removal from the program if there is conviction of a felony. 
If there is an assumption charges will be reduced or dropped against senior Tyrone Watson all together, then why was he suspended in the first place for a fight at a college party as Watson acknowledged in his only public comments since the incident. Watson isn't the first to be re-instated facing such a future, and there is the problem.
What kind of message does that send to the public and future incidents in basketball or other programs at NMSU, and what will the reaction be when the Aggies return home next weekend — senior weekend at the school no less?

Watson may very well be cleared of all wrongdoing. Personally, I hope that happens. The description of Watson as a standout member of the program is well warranted in my limited access, as well as talking to folks in and around the program during his five years at NMSU. Watson made a mistake and fair, or not, his stature as a basketball player (one of 13 on scholarship) puts him under a microscope. A microscope with a glare that’ll glow brighter the further the Aggies travel in their postseason journey.
A decision in the court system won't likely come until after basketball season. If the courts reduced or dropped the charges before the end of the season, then by all means put him on a plane to immediately join his teammates. But that seems unlikely to happen within the next month, which is unfortunate for a fifth-year senior who is close to graduation.

What is more important it seems to the university is getting Watson back in action, no matter the possible reaction by the public. 
That wasn’t the case in a recent incident where four Alabama football players were arrested and charged for second degree robbery and credit card fraud. Less than two weeks later, the players were not only dismissed from the team but from the school. 
The school didn’t waffle and didn’t wait to see how the issues worked their way through the legal system. The decision appeared to be made with the reputation of the school and the program in mind.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said the players' actions did not "reflect the spirit and character that we want our organization reflect."

There are some who believe NMSU missed an opportunity in their ruling of Tyrone Watson’s playing status, to handle difficult circumstances with a sense of empathy. Instead, it appears such a decision was made, typically, with no more than one or two people in mind
An NMSU committee didn’t wait for the courts to make their decision. They recommended his suspension for a quarter of the season was sufficient. Athletics Director McKinley Boston agreed to let Watson return to the team.
This is indicative of a university that operates in its own little world.
Who can blame Watson or the basketball coach for reinstating Watson operating under that umbrella. It's business as usual at NMSU.